By the end of the November, students and staff in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will have the opportunity to take a weekly saliva test that detects whether a person is infected with the novel coronavirus. 

The salvia test is not diagnostic, but it has shown itself to be highly accurate at identifying those infected by the virus, said District LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102 nurse Kelli Kalata, who spoke with the District 96 school board by telephone during the Nov. 4 meeting of the Riverside school board. 

On Nov. 4, after an hour of discussion, the District 96 Board of Education unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with District 102 to participate in its testing program. District 102 has built a lab in its science center to analyze saliva samples. 

Students and staff in District 96 will be offered a weekly saliva test. Vials will be collected at their school and then driven over to the lab, located at Barnsdale School in LaGrange Park. 

The saliva will be tested the day it arrives and results are usually available just a few hours. If someone tests positive, they, or their parents, will be notified and encouraged to get a diagnostic nasal swab test, although Kalata said that District 102 students who have tested positive have often been told by their doctors that an additional nasal swab test is not necessary, because the saliva test have proven itself to be very accurate. 

However, District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said the district would encourage those who test positive to get a diagnostic test. The school district will treat any positive saliva test as a positive COVID-19 result and the student or staff member will be asked to isolate for 10 days. 

Kalata said the test has identified 12 positive results, six in just the last week, in District 102 since their testing program began at the beginning of the school year.

Participation in the test is strictly voluntary. Initially, only students who are part of the hybrid option in District 96 will be eligible to take the test. Parents will have to sign a waiver before their children can be tested.

The school board approved participation in the testing program in the face of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the district and area. As of late last week, 16 students and four staff members, three at Blythe Park School, in District 96 had tested positive for COVID-19 since the school year began.

“This is something that is necessary,” said school board member Shari Klyber. 

The test will be free of charge to District 96 students and staff. District 96 will pay $11 per test to compensate District 102 for the cost running tests for District 96. 

The program is projected to cost District 96 anywhere from $10,734 a week to $20,889 a week, depending on how many students and staff choose to take the tests. 

District 96 will also chip in $10,000, one-third of the cost of two additional machines that will be purchased to analyze the samples. Total costs to the district could range from about $235,000 to as much as $437,000 for 20 weeks of testing. 

“It seems like it’s a reasonable cost,” said board member Joel Marhoul. “This is a worthwhile effort.”

LaGrange School District 105 is also participating in the program. The three school districts are evenly splitting the costs of the two additional testing machines, which cost about $15,000 each.

School board members and staff are concerned about the spike in positive COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and are especially concerned about a possible increase in cases after Halloween and Thanksgiving when kids and families are together. 

The onset of cold weather also has board members concerned about a possible increase in cases.

Ryan-Toye said that she hopes to begin testing students and staff the week of Nov. 30.

“This is an ideal time to be starting,” Marhoul said. “We are entering a time when everyone is going to be cooped up.”